Tebow wars march on

Another day, another article on the outrage over Tim Tebow’s publicly expressed faith and the backlash towards those who are outraged.

It’s a strange cycle, since the more people hate Tebow, the more people love him (and vice versa). And then there are those that hate that there’s still a discussion about his faith. The New York Times has a new piece that shows that even though the Broncos quarterback is not the first athlete to publicly express his faith, he seems to be getting an extra burst of attention this season.

While Tebow is not the first openly religious athlete, the circumstances surrounding his performance this season are so unusual, the N.F.L. is experiencing a rare, if not unprecedented, religious feud. The latest chapter in the Book of Tebow played out Sunday, when he threw two touchdown passes in the Broncos’ upset of the Oakland Raiders, perhaps saving his status as the starter, but not ending the larger debate.

“The role religion plays here is enormous,” said Kurt Warner, the former N.F.L. quarterback and a similarly outspoken Christian athlete. “When somebody professes their faith, and I was that guy for a long time, people automatically think when you praise God it’s because He makes passes go straighter or helps win games. When you lose, they say, your faith doesn’t belong here. Your God’s not helping you win.”

The piece does a nice job of adding context from other athletes and analysts that illustrate why the quarterback is so polarizing. You combine the question of whether he’s a good quarterback with the question of whether his expressions of faith are annoying to some, you get an explosive debate perfect for the internet.

To his most fervent supporters — and there are many — Tebow was never just a quarterback. He was a champion of Christianity in shoulder pads, a wholesome, fearsome football player who loved God and touchdowns, in that order. If detractors found Tebow preachy, if he seemed too good to be true, he still won two national championships and a Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida, securing his legend as one of the greatest college players ever.

Drafted last year by the Broncos, he played sparingly his rookie season. Now, his struggles to adapt to the N.F.L. have changed the tenor of the debate around him, made it nastier, more personal, more intense. Supporters have reacted to criticism of Tebow as an indictment on religion, while detractors seem to delight in every wayward pass.

While the story does a nice job of giving a basic overview of the debate and offers some theories for why we’re seeing the perfect storm, there were a few portions of the article that could have been improved.

Just last year, Tebow drew national attention for his antiabortion commercial broadcast during the Super Bowl. In the past three weeks, he has become the most discussed and most polarizing figure in sports, strange territory for a replacement player on a last-place team.

Actually, remember how the 2010 Superbowl commercial said nothing about abortion? People might have made inferences based on Tebow’s story, but it wasn’t an “antiabortion” commercial from a policy standpoint. Also, maybe this reporter discovered the war surrounding Tebow three weeks ago, but as far as I can tell, it has been going on since the commercial, escalated again at the beginning of the season and then reporters began to notice even more when he began starting for the Broncos.

Online, the torrent of mockery and criticism has been fierce. Blog posts included “God explains why he let Tim Tebow fail” and Twitter exploded in hateful vitriol, to which the Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski mused: “I believe Tim Tebow isn’t an N.F.L. starter and I want him to prove me wrong because I believe he’s a great guy. Is that allowed?”

In sheer volume and intensity, the comments section on an ESPN article best captured the storm known as Tebow mania. They ranged from critical to crude under the theme “X is > Tebow,” with X being “eating your kids” among the options, as moderators struggled to delete the escalating venom.

There’s something about this section of the piece that makes me chuckle. Guess what, folks. Religion does really well on the internet! I just don’t know that looking at the comments section on an ESPN article is the best way to measure how the entire country feels about Tebow, since it’s a fairly selective audience that comments on articles. People feel pretty passionately about public expressions of faith, so it’s not really startling to see vitriol expressed on the interwebs.

Tug of War image via Shutterstock.

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  • http://www.redletterbelievers.com David Rupert

    I live in Denver and the talk is fierce on both sides.
    You know, he’s just a kid. What, 22 years old? He just plays hard, he loves the game and he loves God. He is a passionate young man and that flies in the face of people who want people of faith just to sit down and shut up.

    I like how that article interviewed Kurt Warner, who was always a class act.

    Lots of people in the media here have been fair to Tebow — his faith truly is not the story. Others, however, want to make it all God, pinning Tebow’s failures and successes on the Almighty.

    That’s funny, when they hardly give God a second look any other time.

    I wrote about the Tebow prayer here: http://tinyurl.com/br6nczv

  • astorian

    Tim Tebow’s faith has brought him BOTH an astonishing amount of irrational love AND an astonishing amount of irrational hate.

    Let’s compare Tebow to someone he had a LOT in common with: Danny Wuerffel.

    1) Both Tebow and Wuerffel were starting quarterbacks at the University of Florida.
    2) Both won the Heisman Trophy.
    3) Both led the Gators to a national championship.
    4) Both expressed their Christianity publicly, vocally and often.
    5) Both lacked the tools that NFL teams usually want in a starting quarterback.

    But that’s where the similarities end. Think about this- was Danny Wuerffel a first round draft pick? No! He was drafted in the 4th round, which is right about where he belonged. (It’s also right about where TEbow belonged.)

    When the Saints picked Danny Wuerffel, did evangelical Christians buy millions of Wuerffel jerseys? No!

    Did millions of evangelical Christians demand that Wuerffel be handed the starting job as the Saints’ quarterback? No!

    And, tellingly, did militant atehists boo Wuerffel, mock him, or revel in his failures? DId they start “Wuerffel Sucks” web pages?

    Again, no! Both Bible-thumpers and Bible-burners were able to look at Danny Wuerffel rationally, and to see him for EXACTLY what he was: a very nice, very sincere young man and a great college quarterback who just didn’t have the skills to succeed as a pro football player.

    Hardly anybody seems capable of evaluating Tim Tebow in the same rational

  • Jason A. Schnur

    It seems a little early in this man’s career to say he doesn’t have what it takes. He has been a starter for what, a couple of weeks? The Broncos are 3 and 5. Cam Newton’s team is 2 and 6. Maybe we should write him off also? I seem to remember a quarterback who didn’t look so good his first few years with the NFL, one who was so bad that his team traded him and were glad to be rid of him. That man turned out to be Brett Favre. Let’s give this kid a chance, huh?

  • Stuart

    The comparison between Tebow and Wuerffel by one of your guests here shows you just how deep the dislike for Tebow is. As a Gator Fan I watched both of these players play through there college careers and they could not have been more different in the way they played the game and conducted themselves on the field. Wuerffel may have been the best college passing quarterback I have ever seen. But it was clear that Wuerffel did not have the arm strength to compete in the NFL. As a Gator Fan I was just hoping he would get a chance, and he did. I believe he lasted 6 or 7 seasons in the NFL. There was absolutely no reason Tebow should not have been picked in the top 10 in his draft year. He had all the stats, the arm strength, the toughness to play in the league. He is young and still learning the game. He has a 3-3 record in his first 6 starts, it will take time, but he can learn and be successful. But it will not matter how much success he has, there will always be people like *** who hope and pray for his failure because they are invested in his failure.

  • carl jacobs

    It has become de rigueur to show public contempt for those Christians who refuse to mold themselves to the prevalent worldview. Kurt Warner was protected by success. Tebow is not. He has become a metaphor for Christianity in general. His failure is viewed as a manifestation of the falsehood and weakness of the Christian faith. People observe the hoped-for failure of the Tebow so they can project that failure onto a religion the despise and revile. That’s really all this is about.

    carl

  • TechNoGod

    Athiesm > tebow